BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
GROSSE ILE, Mich. – There’s something about this time of year and Grosse Ile’s boys soccer team advancing in the Division 3 state tournament.
The Red Devils have put together numerous long postseason runs over the past two decades and have developed into a Division 3 state powerhouse. The program has reached the state title game five straight seasons -- six times overall in school history – and in the last decade they have two state championships, three state runner-up showings, lost in the state semifinals three more times and have advanced to at least the regional semifinals every single year in that stretch.
In fact, the Red Devils’ 3-1 triumph last week over Milan gave the program its 15th straight district crown (2009-2023). The last time Grosse Ilse failed to reach the regional semifinals was way back in 2008 long before current head coach Jon Evans took over the reins from Lee DeSana.
Evans is in his eighth season at the helm of the Red Devils, taking over back in 2016.
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“We’ve been blessed with some really good players,” admitted Evans, a Woodhaven graduate and a former NCAA Division I college soccer player at Oakland University. “It’s never easy, but we always figure out how to win at least a district and advance. We’ve been very fortunate to get to the finals (five straight years). That also takes a little bit of luck.”
Whether it’s skills, draws, depth, luck or any combination thereof, Grosse Ile has had the Midas touch in terms of claiming championships along the way and advancing deep into the postseason. But this year wasn’t without its fair share of struggles with a young team and injuries. Ditto for 2022. This year’s group is 13-4-2 and the Red Devils were 14-8-0 last season but still made their run.
“We graduated six guys, but it was a really good group. This year we also had some injuries that hurt, and we are very young with a lot of underclassmen,” said Evans. “But I’m proud of the way they are playing. We took some tough losses at the beginning of the season but we’ve been playing better soccer (as of late).”
The 2023 campaign didn’t start out as well as some of the more recent other seasons did, as the Red Devils started 2-3-0 with a trio of tough losses to Division 1 Saline (6-0) and Division 2 teams Riverview (5-1) and New Boston Huron (5-3). But Grosse Ile more than learned from their mistakes and misfortunes.
So far this season Grosse Ile has outscored the opposition 52-26 – only 10 goals conceded after the 2-3-0 start – and finished third in the Huron League before claiming another district title.
“We had some tough losses, but we have got better since then. The younger guys have grown up,” added Evans.
This year there are five returning starters from the 2022 state runner-up squad, including senior goalkeeper James Duke, junior Landon Bourdage (M/CB), senior Vann Alban (M), junior Sam Vesperman (M) and junior Isaac Miles (D). Each of those players earned some postseason recognition last season or this year, with Duke and Bourdage both garnering All-State Honorable Mention honors. A total of four All-State players graduated from last year’s roster, while perhaps the school’s top overall player has spent the past two seasons suiting up in the MLS Next Academy system (Ali Khaled) and not playing for the high school team. Several other players will earn at least All-League or All-District honors this season and maybe more if the Red Devils continue to advance deep into the Division 3 tournament.
The program lost senior Christian Syrocki (D) to a torn ACL early in the campaign and have had some other players move in and out of the lineup with minor injuries. Junior Caleb Young (M), senior Braydon Syrocki (M) and junior John Dubnicka (M) all played minutes last season. This season, freshmen Rocco Priscuzzi (OB), Carsen Twiner (OB) and Matteo Gatti (M) have made an impact as part of a quality and deep ninth-grade class.
With a young team this season with more than a dozen of freshmen and sophomores on the varsity, Grosse Ile finished third out of eight schools in the Huron League but regrouped to win the Division 3 district that included a 3-1 victory over league rival Milan in the district finals.
Grosse Ile has averaged around 19.4 wins per season over the last decade and has been the most consistent program to hail from the Huron League over the years. The program was quality even back in the 2000s and 1990s, winning its first of three state titles in 2002 under then-coach Amy Rossow. The banners on the gym wall are loaded with soccer championships and trophy case is jam-packed with memoirs and shining armor.
“We’ve had some nice freshmen come into the program this year and three of them play a lot (on varsity) as starters or off the bench,” added Evans of his youth movement.
Evans is 150-16-10 in his eight seasons at the helm. Another postseason win this year will be tough, as the sixth-ranked Red Devils will face top-ranked Birmingham Detroit Country Day (16-2-2) – winners of an MHSAA-record 15 state championships and 16 state finals appearances – in the regional semifinals. The match will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Pontiac Notre Daem Prep.
“We have our work cut out for us, but I know we can compete,” said Evans. “They are always good – they got to the state semifinals again last year. We’ll need to step up if we can get past them. I think the winner of our game has a great chance at the regional title, too.”
Regardless of who wins in the regional round this week, Grosse Ile has long-established itself as a state powerhouse program.
GROSSE ILE DURING RECENT YEARS:
2023: 13-4-2, third in Huron League; district champions; TBA
2022: 14-8-0, second in Huron League; district, regional champions, Final Four, Division 3 state runner-up
2021: 21-2-1, first in Huron League; district, regional champions, Final Four, Division 3 state runner-up
2020: 20-1-1, first in Huron League; district, regional champions, Final Four, Division 3 state champions
2019: 24-2-1, first in Huron League; district, regional champions, Final Four, Division 3 state champions
2018: 27-2-1, first in Huron League; district, regional champions, Final Four, Division 3 state runner-up
2017: 26-1-0, first in Huron League; district champs, regional finalists
2016: 16-1-2, first in Huron League; district champs, regional finalists
2015: 18-3-2, second in Huron League; district, regional champs; lost in Division 3 state semifinals
2014: 15-5-4, first in Huron League; district, regional champs; lost in Division 3 state semifinals
2013: Record unavailable; first in Huron League; district champs, lost in regional semifinals
2012: Record unavailable; first in Huron League; district champs, regional champs; lost in state semifinals